From Chapter 5:
Shadows of late afternoon began to stretch across the field. “Time for me to be gettin’ on home,” said William. “Got to get started on my chores.”
“Well, just remember to take that uniform off before you go to bed. Those buttons will make it kind of hard to get to sleep!”
William laughed as he climbed up into his saddle. “See you later,” Snapping the reins, he pointed the horse toward home.
As he slowly rode down the road, William tried to go through the drill in his mind. He was determined to get it right if it was that last thing he did. Lost in thought, William let the horse go along at its own pace. Rounding a bend, his reverie was brought to a jarring end as he found the road blocked by three mounted men. It was Jonathon Evans, along with two of the street bullies he associated with, Hiram Parker and Joseph Collins.
Evans took a swig of whiskey, then sneered at William. “Well, if it ain’t the little farm boy what thinks he’s a soldier. Don’t he look pretty!” Sweat began to pour under William’s heavy wool jacket as he glanced about, looking for an escape route. Evans dismounted, handing his reins to one of the other men. “Course this uniform looks too shiny and clean for a rough and ready soldier boy. Mebbe we should dirty it up a little—you know, just so folks will think you’ve been—.”
As Evans reached to grab his coat, William thrust out with his foot, trying to kick free. Evans dodged, then grabbed William’s leg. With a shove, he pushed William off the saddle. Flailing wildly, William tried to regain his seat, but found himself falling. He landed with a thud on his back, kicking up a cloud of dust. Evans slapped the rear of the horse, sending it galloping off down the road. The two other men had dismounted by now, and the three ruffians circled William.
Before he could get fully to his feet, Evans lashed a fist at William’s jaw, knocking the boy to his knees. Several times he tried to stand, but every time he attempted to get up one of them would knock him back down again. Blow after blow rained down, but still William would not give up trying to rise and fight back.
Suddenly the hoodlums stopped their attack, finally allowing William to rise to his feet. Swaying slightly, with blood oozing from cuts on his face, he turned to face Jonathon. Before he could take a step, though, his arms were grabbed and pinioned behind him. He struggled feebly, unable to break free in his weakened state.
Evans directed an evil leer to the other man. “I declare, Collins, Parker’s caught himself a dirty little pig!” He reached down to his boot and drew out a mean-looking knife. “Mebbe we should slice him up for bacon!” Parker and Collins roared with laughter. William felt faint.
From Chapter 7:
The party worked its way steadily northward through the high granite mountains of northern New Hampshire. Good fortune continued to smile on them in the form of mild, late autumn weather. This was doubly fortunate, because Pastor Marsh would not allow fires when they camped at night. To escape detection, they traveled up through the interior of the state, staying away from the main routes. Much of their course followed the rock-strewn Androscoggin River, which wound its way down through dense forests along the western side of the state. Marsh planned to pass along an old stage road through Dixville Notch, then skirt the small township of Colebrook. By the time they reached that point, they would be only a couple of days from the Canadian border.
It was getting very late in the afternoon when they arrived at the base of Dixville Notch. Everyone bent to the task of pushing the wagons up through the narrow pass. The towering cliffs ringing them cast shadows as dark as night within the notch, even though the tops of the granite pinnacles were still bathed in the reddish light of the setting sun. Torches were hastily lit to aid them in finding their way through.
Marsh prodded the exhausted travelers onward. “Keep moving, keep moving! We’re almost there.” Soon the preacher found the spot he was looking for—a fairly level meadow next to a small pond. “We shall stay here for tonight. The mountain walls around us will shield us from prying eyes. Campfires will be allowed this evening.”
Knowing they would not have to pass another cold night with no fire gave heart to the weary travelers. Quickly they set about gathering firewood and stretching their worn pieces of canvas to create shelters. Distant rumblings echoing throughout the gorge announced the coming of a winter storm. The temperature was dropping quickly. Thomas and Joshua laid their bedrolls under one of the wagons. “Probably get some snow,” said Thomas. “It’s sure cold enough for it.”
Joshua grinned. “I’m jes’ lookin’ forward to some hot food.”
Thomas looked upward at the fading light reflecting off the highest peak. He admired the craggy rock formations above. It’s so beautiful here. One outcropping in particular caught his attention. It seemed to extend out over the valley like a sentinel, guarding all below it. As he gazed at the stone, darkness fell across it as if a curtain had been drawn. The edges of threateningly dark clouds were spreading across the sky. He felt a cold splash of water on his cheek. Soon, a frigid rain began to fall. The exhausted travelers huddled in their blankets beneath the flapping canvas lean-to’s and drifted off to sleep.
While the travelers slumbered fitfully below, rainwater collected in multiple cracks within the cliff walls. Though the drizzle had come to an end, liquid continued to collect in numerous cavities and slowly turned to ice, expanding as the temperature dropped below freezing. The giant rock which had earlier caught Thomas’s attention was shoved by this faint bit of stress. Small showers of stones and dirt caused by the rock’s movement fell into the cracks; this in turn pushed a bit more on the stone. Finally the rock was levered beyond its point of balance—and with a grinding roar, began to fall away from the mountainside.
At first, only the sensitive ears of the pack animals could pick up the sound. The terrified braying of the mules woke the travelers. Thomas sleepily lifted his head. What the devil . . . ? Shivering from the cold, he tried to discern what was causing the animals to react so. Suddenly, he heard a dull, cracking sound that seemed to be coming from far above. He glanced upward—and the sight he beheld jolted him instantly awake in horror. Illuminated by the hazy, dim pre-dawn glow, the gigantic stone seemed to be peeling itself from the top of the cliff. Momentarily paralyzed by the awesome sight, he could only stare—then, regaining his wits, he yelled with all the power his lungs could muster. “Avalanche! Get to cover! Move, Move!”